Om Ahuja of Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) India explains the various implications that come into play when non-resident Indians (NRIs) sell property that they own in India.
The recent times have seen an interesting new trend in the whole NRI property debacle - NRIs from North America and Europe coming to India to sell their purchased or inherited real estate after they obtain citizenship in these countries. This is not a trend that has been extensively examined, but it makes perfect sense. Holding on to real estate is not always feasible if one is unable to manage them.
This is especially true if the NRIs in question do not visit India frequently and are not open to renting out their properties. They prefer not to burden relatives and friends with the task of paying property tax, maintenance and society dues and see more sense in encashing the capital value of their inherited properties
Selling such real estate is usually not the biggest challenge. What can create confusion is the viability - and ways and means - of remitting the resulting funds back into the country of residence. There is, in fact, a fairly straight-forward process.
The aspects that come into play are:
As in the case of resident Indians, NRIs who sell purchased property after three years from the date of purchase will incur long term capital gains tax of 20 percent. The gains are calculated as the difference between sale value and indexed cost of purchase. Indexed cost of purchase is nothing but the cost of purchase adjusted to inflation. Calculation of indexed cost of purchase is easy - many websites provide a calculator; else a chartered accountant can assist.
In case of inherited property, the date and cost of purchase for purposes of computing the period of holding as well as cost of purchase is taken to be the date and cost to the original owner.
To be more precise, the amount of long term capital gains together with the cost to the previous owner (i.e. the person from whom the property is inherited) would be considered as the cost of purchase. NRIs are subject to a Tax Deducted at Source (TDS) of 20 percent on the long term capital gains. But there are certain instances when NRI can get a waiver of the TDS.
One such case would be if the NRI is planning to re-invest the capital gains of the property in another property or in tax exempt bonds. In such cases, the NRI will be exempt from tax in India, and no TDS will be deducted either.
If the NRI sells the property before three years have elapsed since the date of purchase, short term capital gains tax at his or her tax slab is incurred. Short term capital gain is calculated as the difference between the sale value and the cost of purchase (without the indexation benefit). The NRI will be subject to a TDS of 30 percent irrespective of his or her tax slab.
NRI selling their properties can apply to the income tax authorities for a tax exemption certificate under section 195 of the Income Tax Act. They must make this application in the same jurisdiction that their PAN belongs to and will be required to show proof of reinvestment of capital gains.
If the NRI is planning to buy another house, the allotment letter or payment receipt will need to be produced; if capital gains bonds are chosen instead, an affidavit to this effect will have to be prepared. Usually, buyers withhold the last installment of payment until the NRI produces a certificate of exemption. A NRI has up to two years from the date of sale to invest in another property, or up to six months to invest in bonds.
Section 54 - This section stipulates that if NRI sells a residential property after three years from the date of purchase and reinvest the proceeds into another residential property within two years from the date of sale, the profit generated is exempt to the extent of the cost of new property.
To illustrate - if the capital gains is Rs. 10 lakh and the new property costs Rs. 8 lakh, the remaining Rs. 2 lakh are treated as long term capital gains. The sold residential property may be either have been self-occupied property or given on rent. The new property must be held for at least three years.
NRIs cannot invest the proceeds on the sale of a property in India in a foreign property and still avail the benefit of Section 54. However, some recent hearings with the appellate authorities have held that exemption can be claimed under Section 54 even if the new house is purchased outside India.
However, this is not explicitly specified clearly under the law, and it is advisable for an NRI to consult a tax expert before making any investment decisions outside India to avail of tax benefits under Section 54.
Section 54EC - This section of the Income Tax Act states that if an NRI sells a long term asset (in this case, a residential property) after three years from the date of purchase and invests the amount of capital gains in bonds of NHAI and REC within six months of the date of sale, he or she will be exempt from capital gains tax. The bonds will remain locked in for a period of three years.
General permission is available to NRIs and PIOs to repatriate the sale proceeds of property inherited from an Indian resident, subject to certain conditions. If those conditions are fulfilled, the NRI need not seek the RBI's permission. However, if the NRI has inherited the property from a person residing outside India, he or she must seek specific permission from the RBI.
The conditions for repatriation of such funds are not really complicated - the amount per financial year (April-March) should not exceed USD 1 million, and should be done through authorized dealers. NRIs must provide documentary evidence with regard to their inheritance of the property, and a certificate from a chartered accountant in the specified format.
What NRIs must pay attention to is the income tax implications in their country of residence. Many countries tax their residents on their income regardless of where it originates from, while others provide partial or total exemption on capital gains arising on sale of a residential house if certain conditions are met.
The most important point to ponder is the income tax liability in the country of residence on the amount of gain, and whether claiming exemption under Sections 54/54F/54EC is really worth it. The NRI may, in fact, be better off claiming only partial or no tax exemption on the capital gains in India.
The author is the CEO of residential services at Jones Lang LaSalle India.